Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Privatization of Bogotá's Hills

Entrance to the Green Park apartment towers
on Bogotá's Eastern Hills. (Photo: Caracol Radio)
Late last year, a Colombian high court ruled that the Forestry Reserve in Bogotá's Cerros Orientales - the Eastern Hills bordering the city - was sacrosanct and no licenses for construction could be issued there. Bogotá then-Mayor Gustavo Peto, who styled himself an environmentalist, vow that no more building would be allowed on the hills.

Of course, it hasn't happened. To see for yourself, just look uphill from La Candelaria, where the Externado University is building vertical parking lots on the hillside, albeit apparently outside the Forestry Reserve. And, about ten days ago, a high court ruled that construction of a luxury apartment complex named Green Park in La Calera could go ahead because it was not located inside the forestry reserve.

A traffic jam on the road to La Calera. Apartments
near here will only worsen congestion. (Photo: ADN)
Perhaps these projects really aren't inside the reserve or the buffer area supposed to protect the reserve from the city - but such border lines seem to experience remarkable flexibility when they conflict with the profits of  influential builders. But that's only part of the point. Bogotá's leaders have declared many times that open space is important and should be preserved, as well as that the city should grow by becoming denser, rather than sprawling, which compounds the city's traffic jams.

Construction cranes on Bogotá's Eastern Hills.
The Externado University is building two towers
with almost 500 parking spaces.
When environmental authorities suspended construction on the Green Park apartments in June of last year, they said that the construction damaged the area's plants and animals and that the site was inside the  Teusacá River,'s watershed, "should be a protected area." Presumably, all of those things are still true nine months later, yet a court nevertheless has ruled that construction on the apartments can go ahead - all of which makes one wonder what when on 'behind the curtains.'

'Bogotá is being renewed here.' This huge lot, where the
Spanish government was going to build a cultural center,
has sat empty for years.
Legal issues aside, why do planning officials permit projects like these which contradict the city's expressed values? In the city center, for example, there are numerous unused or underused spaces where a university could build, near mass transit and without deforesting Bogotá's emblematic hills.

Fewer trees and more concrete in the hills will worsen flooding and pollution in Bogotá. Car-based constructions on the hills will make Bogotá's monumental traffic jams even worse. All of which will pile huge costs on the city and citizenry.

Expert courts and curadurias to reinterpret the forestry reserve's borders to facilitate more construction. The hills, which by all rights should be a resource for all all Bogotanos - and particularly for the poor, who can't afford to escape into the countryside - will be progressively privatized by the wealthy.

The empty lot in the center of Bogotá - why don't they build here, instead of deforesting Bogotá's hills?
Traffic congestion in central Bogotá will only get worse with more construction of auto-dependant projects far from TransMilenio.
One of the historical center's daily traffic jams. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


heritagpoliceman said...

Of course the courts will allow development if it not officially inside the forestry reserve boundary. They can only apply the law. And of course developers will want to build on the hills - for the views !

Miguel said...

But in this case, even if the site is outside the reserve, there are real questions about whether it's permitted to build so close to the reserve, whether you can build at such an altitude, on such a steep slope, etc.

And, if not the court, then city officials might take into account the wider impacts on the city.